Tales From the Hilltop
An intelligent, yet Devil's Advocate view of the world

Episode Forty-Three: The Day That Football Trumped ALL.

I once mentioned in my blog of how valuable sports can be to our nation. How the spirit of competition enriches our lives, and takes our minds off of whatever else seems to be going on we want to forget about. I also said that the people who play and coach these games we love so much are often times given special status in society: millions of dollars, instant celebrity perks, and sometimes passes when trouble may find them.

Unfortunately, it seems that this was one case where football pretty much took priority over everything…including the safety of children.

Unless you’ve been living in a cauldron for the last week, I’m sure you’ve heard all about the very, very sad and outrageous state of affairs at Penn State University. If you didn’t here’s the shortened sentence synopsis.

An assistant coach. Trobuled kids. Gifts. Pedophilia. Sordid Showers. Eyewitnesses. Blind eyes. Buck passing. Little to no effort to stop it. And finally, a massive cover-up.

(By the way here is the report: http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/uploadedFiles/Press/Sandusky-Grand-Jury-Presentment.pdf – Warning: this is VERY explict, graphic, and pretty goddammed gross.)

(I agree. This definitely sounds like a future “Law & Order: SVU” episode)

Well, it’s seems as though the past caught up with the administration at Penn State. The assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, the man accused of molesting kids for almost 20 years is now about to go on trial, the athletic director is also going to have his day in court for his role, and the university president was fired by the board of trustees.

…and then, there’s the head football coach, Joe Paterno.

For the last half-century, “Joe Pa” has not only been the head coach of the Penn State, he’s pretty much been the face of the university and the town of State College, PA. The NCAA’s most winningest coach, he also led the school to two national titles along the way. At 84 years young, the man has been an inspiration to thousands of Penn State alumni, both on and off the field with his leadership and commitment to not only making champions on the field, but champions in life. In the shortest terms: before the scandal broke, if he died, I’m sure he would’ve been up for sainthood someday soon in Happy Valley.

But, even he apparently couldn’t escape the outrage and anger caused by this ever-growing scandal. Just as the president was relieved of his duties, Joe Pa was also shown the door by the board of trustees for his role, or non-role in the scandal. You see, Coach Paterno had been told of one particular incident by Sandusky involving sodomizing a 10-year old boy in the locker room one night by a witness to said incident nine years ago. Having heard this, Paterno then alerted the Athletic Director, but that was the end of his involvement in the matter. Now, why was the country calling for HIS head, especially when he had fulfilled his obligation in the matter? Simple. Every person around the area knows that Paterno simply did the bare minimum in this matter. He could’ve called the police and had they investigate it; he could’ve banned Sandusky from the facilities. Neither was done, and Sandusky was allowed to use PSU facilities as he pleased.

Well, the news of Joe Pa’s firing wasn’t received well at all by the student body. That night, many students rallied…then rioted on campus, to the point where tear gas had to be used to calm the situation down.

Now here’s what’s troubling me about everything:

1) Exactly why are the students rioting? Joe Pa himself stated that he was told a man was abusing children and didn’t do all that was required to protect those kids. He took his punishment (albeit, very reluctantly) like a man and accepted everything handed to him. So, the student body – even if they wanted him to stay – really shouldn’t have gotten that much up in arms about this. No, he didn’t touch the kids, but not stopping it was pretty much enabling it to happen. So, if he’s guilty of at least that, how can the students get that mad? Is the career of a well-respected coach that much more important than sordid details of sexually abused kids on the campus? Really?

2) Why does it seem as this was more about Joe Pa and less about everyone involved? There is a TON of culpability to go around here, not just on Paterno’s shoulders.  The Graduate Assistant who saw it and ran away, the janitors, the victim’s parents who knew previously, etc, etc. I think America saw a major name in college sports with the word “scandal” next to it, and simply got bloodthirsty. As much as I hate to admit it, this isn’t about the kids or even the monster molesting them. This was about power, privilege, and status. Yeah, everyone’s been saying the right things, but I wonder who will really have those kids’ (some of whom are now grown) interests at heart? And this country…honestly,  if you’re outside the Penn State family, will you really care what happens three months, six months, a year down the road?

I see these things, and it still serves as a reminder that no one is above the law. However, the more we want to say this, the more we have incidents that try to prove quite the opposite. So, what ARE we saying to the youth out there? That status triumphs all? That the rules really only apply to normal people?

I can only hope that the Penn State family takes a LONG look at itself, and its actions over the last couple of days. Because I’m having a hard time taking them seriously as an “institution of higher learning”, and I’m sure I’m not alone. When football takes precedent over kids getting abused, that speaks volumes about all of us. Yes, the games are fun to watch. Yes, they help greatly in recruiting, not just players but students. However, football isn’t that big to where it gets put over people, especially children….it just isn’t.

Someday, we’ll all learn this….at least, I hope we will. Maybe this scandal is the wake-up call we needed.

 

11/11/2011

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